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Committed to Commitment: The Problem with Washington State’s Involuntary Treatment Act

By December 1, 2022January 17th, 2023No Comments

Abstract: Washington State utilizes the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) to civilly commit individuals experiencing behavioral health crises. Although civil commitment involves stripping away fundamental rights, it receives less attention than criminal incarceration. The ITA is meant to protect not just the general community, but also the rights of people with behavioral health disorders who utilize the ITA system. Yet, its implementation tells a different story. Individuals in King County are detained and committed repeatedly, without receiving consistent care. Furthermore, the ITA disproportionately impacts unhoused individuals and Black individuals. As the ITA continues to grow both in utilization and expense, other community-based behavioral health interventions are unable to thrive. This is not just a social services issue: the implementation of the ITA in King County does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or Washington’s constitutional duty to foster and support institutions for individuals who are “mentally ill.” Implementation of civil commitment law in King County is ethically and legally questionable, and raises disturbing questions about civil commitment statewide. This Comment suggests that federal litigation may be necessary to persuade state and local governments to alter how they implement the ITA and to bring that implementation into alignment with state and federal disability law.

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